PLAYA VISTA – Watch Matt Barnes outrun opponents down the floor and his background as an all-state high school football player is readily apparent. He sneaks past his man, leaking to the offensive end, and turns on what seems to be a second gear as he accelerates into open space around the basket.

Chris Paul, who openly recruited Barnes as a free agent this summer, has three times this season referred to his lanky teammate as the “most in-shape guy” on the Clippers roster.

He makes cuts in the half-court offense with receiver-like precision. He runs with a marathoner’s endurance.

“His energy is contagious and everybody knows how big his heart is and how much he wants to help everybody,” Paul said following Thursday’s practice at the Clippers Playa Vista Training Facility.

And, of course, Barnes has lived up to his reputation as a long-armed, versatile defender. “Matt does everything for our team defensively because he’s so interchangeable,” Paul continued. “He’s one of those guys that can guard from the point guard to the center.”

Lately, Barnes has been one of the most effective two-way players in the game, a coup of sorts for a Clippers team that brought in seven new players this offseason. The reserve forward scored 11 points in Wednesday’s 93-77 victory over the New Orleans Hornets, two games after netting 21 in Milwaukee. It was his fifth consecutive double-figure scoring effort off the bench, matching a career high, and 14th game overall with 10 or more. The Clippers are 13-1 in those games and undefeated in games he tops double digits as a reserve. 

“I’m just kind of finding my rhythm,” Barnes said. “Half this team is new, so it’s still going to take a little while to get to know each other’s tendencies. We’ve come a long way. We’re still waiting on Chauncey [Billups] and Grant [Hill] to get back but we’re still a talented team and you can’t really zone in on anybody because everybody’s effective on the offensive end.”

Barnes’ effectiveness on the offensive end comes as somewhat of a bonus. He’s long been considered among the best positional rebounders in the league and a menacing defensive presence on the wing, but an afterthought at times on offense. This year, though, he’s averaging 10.0 points in 25 games, 0.2 of a point off his career high which came in 77 games with the high-octane Phoenix Suns in 2008-09.

“This last summer I worked really hard on it and I’m getting more comfortable out there shooting and my teammates believe in me and I’m just going to let them go,” Barnes said.

Through 25 games, it’s been essentially 3-pointers or layups for Barnes, who has averaged 7.8 field goal attempts per game with 6.3 of those either coming at the rim or from beyond the arc. This disparity comes partly as a result of Barnes running the floor, whether it’s blowing by a defender for a rim run or bolting to the corner for his pet 3-point shot.

“I think with the second unit and when I’m in there with the first unit, anytime you can get easy baskets it’s a plus,” Barnes said. “Running in transition and scoring in transition, prevents you from setting your defense up on the other side. Running hard and I can get some easy points, and I’m definitely going to keep doing that.”

Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro says Barnes’ ability to run the floor is just a small portion of what he brings to the lineup on a game-by-game basis.  “What I’ve been most pleased with is that something’s going to happen when he’s on the court,” Del Negro said. “He fills up the stat line. He does a good job guarding. He brings an edge to us.

“He rebounds the ball well. He gives us a lot of intangibles that sometimes don’t show up on the stat sheets. He’s able to switch pick and rolls, and play bigger guys and play smaller guys. He gives us a lot of versatility which has been great.”